How lockdown made me reclaim the selfie

Claire Maxwell
·4-min read
Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

I open my iPhone’s camera, switch it to front-facing, adjust my expression, and click. A selfie. One of hundreds, perhaps even thousands, taken in my lifetime. Though one of less in recent years and I’m out of practice, awkward with myself. Alone with my camera phone, wondering how much to tilt my head, dip my chin, tuck my hair behind my ear or leave it flowing, obscuring one eye.

We millennials have grown up with the selfie: first adopting them in our teen years for grungy, angst-ridden MySpace profile pictures, riding them through Facebook and Twitter until finally landing in the filtered utopia of Instagram. Instagram is where the selfie could truly shine, and in those early days we slapped a Valencia filter on a pouting face and watched as five, six, maybe even seven likes rolled in.

At some point – perhaps when I’d stopped using selfies to either attract a boy I wanted to date or to defiantly show an ex how simultaneously over it and attractive I was – I became strangely intolerant of them. There is something undeniably self-indulgent about the act of taking and posting a selfie, but my distaste took on a more fundamental flavour. I’d look at the Instagram grid of an influencer, reality TV star, or old school friend posting selfie after selfie and think snobbishly: if only they knew there was so much more to them than the way they looked. It was as if my feminism depended on my Instagram feed being filled only with pictures of food I’d eaten, landscapes I’d seen and books I’d read.

This past year hasn’t been good for my self-esteem. And from the many conversations I’ve had with friends, I don’t think I’m the only one to have found wearing the same comfortable outfit every day and washing my hair less than is optimal to be damaging to the way I feel about myself. It is true that we are so much more than the way we look, and yet the way we look has such a huge impact on how we feel. And if the way we feel is negative and impacting on our ability to live full, happy lives (social anxiety is often triggered by lack of self-esteem), that shouldn’t be ignored just because the root of it sounds frivolous.

In the latter stages of lockdown, I made a conscious effort to get dressed, to go outside (even if only for yet another walk), and to put some of my favourite CC cream and mascara on. What I found is that I not only felt a bit better, a bit lighter in my step, but I also felt the urge to take my phone out of my pocket, let the wind whip through my hair and take a picture of myself. With happiness on my face.

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The selfie is an expression. You can tell so much from a selfie, as you scroll through your social media feeds. I follow a few women who regularly post pictures of themselves out for walks or on the sofa with their cat, feeling good, feeling content. And that little snapshot – a moment in time caught for the world to see – says all that: that they are doing okay. The opposite is true too; some people post photos of their faces when they are crumpled, in pain, crying. These self-portraits are even more intimate – an insight into a person who is struggling and reaching out.

I find myself re-embracing the selfie, approximately 15 years after I took my first badly-lit, heavily-filtered mirror shot for MySpace. They have come a long way since then: almost professional in quality when taken by Influencers with the latest iPhone and sunlight bouncing off their dewy complexion. Undoubtably, the selfie has a dark side, especially when airbrushed and FaceTuned and then presented as ‘authentic’. But the selfies I have grown to love this past year have been those that are an expression of self-acceptance. I might be out of practice, my pout might not be as perfected as it once was, and I might not capture the professional shine of an Influencer, but when life is restricted and anxiety-filled, and in some cases plagued with low self-esteem, it is nice to see joy depicted in a quickly snapped photograph. In fact, it can be very affirming. Perhaps both the selfie and I have finally found a healthy equilibrium.



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